Month: April 2014

Building Permits in Three Sentences

applicationA building permit is written permission from the appropriate authoritative entity(ies) to begin construction or alteration of an improvement. Municipalities typically legislate and enforce building codes in Texas. For this reason, a person who wants to build or alter an improvement should consult the ordinances of the particular municipality in which the improvement is located to determine whether a building permit is required, how to apply for a permit, and what happens after the application is made.

In our “Law 101″ posts, we define terms, phrases, or concepts with the goal of conveying core information in order to set the stage for more complex discussions.

Sriracha Hot Sauce Declared a Nuisance

file000604431874Jalapeño, serrano, cayenne, and tabasco are different peppers that give zest to meals and sauces. One type of pepper may be enough to get the job done. Yet adding different peppers may bring more heat, too.

The maker of Sriracha hot sauce, Huy Fong Foods, is in the news again. According to various news sources (see here and here, for example), the City of Irwindale, California has declared unanimously that Huy Fong Foods’ factory is a public nuisance. In other words, the city council itself, and not a judge or a jury, has determined that the factory constitutes a nuisance. This is true even though Irwindale had already filed a lawsuit asking a judge or a jury to decide that very issue, and that lawsuit is still pending. The end result: Huy Fong Foods now has 90 days to remedy the alleged emission problem or the city may enter the factory and make changes or shut it down.

Would the outcome have been any different had Huy Fong Foods filed suit first seeking a ruling that its activities do not constitute a nuisance? Could Huy Fong Foods argue that the city council’s recent declaration is an attempt to circumvent the judicial process? Probably. Would this be a successful argument? In and of itself, perhaps not. Cities are invariably endowed with legal authority to protect the health and safety of their citizens.

There’s usually more than one way to address a legal problem. One approach may be enough to get the job done. Yet a multifaceted approach may bring more heat, too.

In our In the News series, we use an article or topic that has been featured recently in the news as a potential learning opportunity.

Locking Someone Out of Their House?

How would you react if you came home one day to discover that the locks to your house had been changed? Who would you call? What would you do? Why?

A few years ago, a client called and asked if he could change the locks on a tenant who was behind in rent.

The client-landlord had leased one of his houses to the tenant for a five-year term. The lease required the tenant to timely pay rent and the landlord to pay for certain utilities. The lease stated that the landlord could change the locks if rent became overdue. The parties were more than half way through the lease term, and the tenant had been delinquent many, many times in the past. Now the overdue amount had become quite significant. Fed up, the landlord wanted to immediately call a locksmith.

IMG_0231_2 (1)In Texas, a landlord may only change the locks on a residential tenant based on delinquency in rent if certain conditions are met. First, the lease agreement must expressly allow it. Second, the landlord must give separate, advance written notice that the landlord intends to change the locks if rent isn’t paid. Third, once the locks are changed, the landlord must provide yet another written notice informing the tenant where he or she may obtain a new key at any hour regardless of whether the delinquency is paid.

“Well, maybe I’ll just stop paying their gas bill.” I knew he said this sardonically. Still, I used it as an opportunity to tell him that there are separate rules that govern the disconnection or disruption of utilities and that doing so under these circumstances might not be the most prudent course of action. But, I explained, he did have many other effective tools at his disposal to handle the situation. And handle it we did.

In our Just for Fun posts, we underscore certain construction and real estate topics just for the fun of it.